Sunday, March 24, 2013

Decision from SBTS

Back on January 6th I let everyone know that I had been invited to participate in the second phase of the admissions process to the EdD program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Well, let me just say that much has happened since that post.  My family and I enjoyed a week-long vacation on a Carnival cruise that was absolutely fabulous and without incident.  In fact, the Carnival Legend was the ship on which we sailed and my wife and I were saddened to learn that this very ship experienced issues just a few weeks later.  Suffice to say we remain fans and will consider cruising as an option for future family vacations.  Call me crazy!

Having been invited I made the short journey to Louisville (which from Atlanta is a fun little drive) for the entrance exam and interview.  As one might expect, I was nervous about my visit but did feel prepared.  I was fortunate to finish a little early so had a little time to roam around the campus.  I was especially fond of the bookstore and at the time thought how much I would enjoy getting better acquainted with it.  After my interview with Dr. Timothy Paul Jones I made the drive back to Atlanta and began the wait to hear about the results of these efforts.

Fast forward a month to the receipt of a letter from Southern.  As I held it in my hand I considered what the contents would mean to me and my family.  I receive advertisements from a number of schools from time to time including Southern so the arrival of something from a school was nothing unusual.  However, it was immediately clear that this was not a piece of marketing collateral.  It was a letter.  After a few moments of hesitation, I opened it to find word that the school had accepted me into the EdD program (provisionally).  Wow!  I still have to take care of some matriculation paperwork but it appears that I will be spending the next few years much like I have the last few: studying! 

After such a positive experience earning the Master of Religious Education at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, I am eager to begin this new chapter in my education.  Of course, I will continue to provide occasional updates as my time at Southern Seminary unfolds.  To say I am excited is an understatement!  In fact, a whole range of emotions I would like to thank everyone who has prayed for me and would ask that you continue to do so.  My family and I covet the prayers of our family and friends!  To God be the glory!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Learning Theory Systems: Part Three

          There is certainly more than one approach to teaching in general and teaching Scripture in particular.  It is a mistake to dismiss Andy Stanley’s approach to ministry through a mistaken belief that his approach does not get into deep doctrinal truths.  Having personal experience to the contrary is beneficial and likely places the author in a unique position as compared to most in the current class.  Stanley’s approach has reached many previously unchurched people and he has helped a generation of ministers realize there is more than one way to teach Scripture.
          Yount provides all the clinical detail and historical development of the various learning system theories that one would expect from a seminary level course of this nature.  Though dry, the content is important to anyone who would seek to be a more effective teacher of God’s word.   For the minister who seeks to not only be a better teacher but to train a group of teachers to be effective communicators, it is critical to have a thorough understanding of the various ways people teach and people learn.  The Great Commission is more than to simply teach the nations all that Jesus commanded but to teach obedience to all Christ commanded.[1]  Our goal as teachers is nothing short of teaching people to be like Christ.  The task deserves our willingness to consider approaches we might otherwise dismiss.

[1] Parrett, Gary A., and S. Steve Kang. Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 51-52.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Learning Theory Systems: Part Two

Three Possibilities
          In their discussion of communicators determining their goal, Andy Stanley and Lane Jones state there are three possible goals for communicators.  The first is to teach the Bible to people where the idea is to teach the content of the Bible so interested parties can understand Scripture and find their way through it.  This is the perceived goal of the teacher who methodically goes verse by verse through the books of the Bible.  Of note is the lack of creativity required for this approach. [1] 
The second is to teach people the Bible where the teacher takes into account the people being taught.  This approach requires a constant search for effective ways of imparting biblical truth to those being instructed.  The primary goal with this approach is whether or not the audience understood and if they will remember the material covered.[2]
The third is to teach people how to live a life that reflects the values, principles, and truths of the Bible. [3]It comes as no surprise to one who lives in the immediate area and has attended worship services lead by Stanley to learn he prefers the third option.  He considers this preaching for life change which requires far less information and more application.  Stanley and Jones carefully explain their vision of preaching and teaching for life change. 
Influence on Lesson Plans
          Stanley and Jones advocate an approach that uses smaller amounts of information similar to the approach we see in cognitive learning theory.  It does seem odd that they would utilize such a minimalist view of the other approaches to presenting Scripture.  Stanley and Jones seem to indicate that expository preaching and teaching is an inferior method which is a conclusion the author is simply unwilling to make. 
The teaching for life change approach may seem shallow to some though may actually be more of a directed discovery sort of approach as discussed by Yount.[4]  A closer review of what Stanley and Jones have said has lead this seminarian to conclude the approach is very similar to the humanistic learning approach in the church described by Yount.[5]  Yount rightly reminds his readers that Christian humanism focuses on others in Jesus’ name.  This people approach is taught by other educators as well and is an approach that has come to be preferred by the author.[6] 
Interestingly, Yount himself seems to agree with Stanley and Jones going so far as to provide guidance as to how teachers might encourage students to be doers of the word.[7]  That is never an easy task yet it seems to be a common theme among Christian education authors.[8]
A simplification of lesson plans would seem to be in order with an increased emphasis on application of what was learned.  For the author, there is a tendency to spend so much time and effort focused on the trees the view of the forest is missed.  As enjoyable as a deep theological discussion is, there are many, perhaps even most, who simply are uninterested in that level of detail.  Not everyone aspires to be a seminary student!

[1] Stanely, Andy, and Ronald Lane Jones. Communicating for Change. (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2006), 93-94.
[2] Ibid, 94-95.
[3] Ibid, 95-98
[4] Yount, William R. Created To Learn, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 241-48.
[5] Ibid, 328-30.
[6] Mitchell, Michael R. Leading, Teaching, and Making Disciples. (Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks, 2010), 309-10.
[7] Yount, William R., ed. The Teaching Ministry of the Church, 2nd ed. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 252-57.
[8] Richards, Lawrence O., and Gary J. Bredfeldt. Creative Bible Teaching. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1998), 71-73.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Learning Theory Systems: Part One

          For a teacher, understanding how those whom they teach learn is probably second only to understanding the material about which they will be teaching.  All the mastery one might possess is for naught if the teacher cannot communicate that material in a way that students understand and retain.  Here a brief treatment of William Yount’s views on traditional behavioral learning, social behavioral learning, cognitive learning and humanistic learning as well as Andy Stanley’s three possibilities when determining the goal in communicating the Word of God.  An assignment of this length does not allow for the detailed treatment possible for each of Yount’s learning theory systems or even of Stanley’s briefer views on the possibilities for the communicator.  What will be evident are the clinical nature of Yount’s systems and the practical nature of Stanley’s approach.  What will also be evident is that Stanley’s approach incorporates an understanding of Yount’s systems.
Learning Theory Systems
          Behavioral learning theory is the oldest of the systems discussed by Yount.[1]  The focus on this system is the behavior of the students including both academic and social skills.  IN this system we find the contributions of men such as John Lock, Wilhelm Wundt, Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, Edward L. Thorndike, and B. F. Skinner.[2]  All of these men contributed to what would become psychology and the branch with which we are interested here, educational psychology especially our understanding of positive and negative reinforcement in the classroom setting.  In this system the learner is treated as a machine and is best described as programmed instruction where the programs maximize reinforcement while attempting to minimize failure.[3]
          The biggest challenge for behavioral learning theory is the inability to account for learning that occurs through modeling and imitation.[4]  The acknowledged spokesman for social behavioral learning is Albert Bandura who published the definitive work on the subject in 1977 called Social Learning Theory.[5]  Social learning moved away from behavioral learning in three key ways: direct reinforcement of the observer is unnecessary for learning to occur, rational encoding and mental representations of observed behaviors, and an interaction of between the learner and the environment where the environment influences the learner and the learner influences the environment.[6]
          Cognitive learning theory focuses on the thinking of students instead of their behavior or attitudes.[7]  The view of cognitive learning theorists is that internal mental processes can be studies in a scientific manner. Here we again find the work of Wilhelm Wundt as well as that of Ernst Mach, Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang K√∂hler, Kurt Lewin, and Jerome Bruner.  Of particular interest is Bruner’s Discovery Learning which emphasizes students discovering solutions to problems individually or in groups.[8]  Part of Bruner’s approach includes the view of presenting material in small doses to promote a greater economy of learning.  Yount goes on to describe the current state of cognitive learning theory and the continuing development of such subcategories as the Information Processing Theory Model which uses the personal computer as an analogy.[9]   
          Closing out Yount’s learning theory systems is humanistic learning.[10]  Yount then goes on to explain that the tenets of humanistic learning have not disappeared but have simply been absorbed by Radical Constructivism.  Humanistic learning is grounded in secular humanism which focuses on man to the exclusion of God.  One definition states secular humanism is a wasy of life and thought that is pursued without reference to God or religion.  It is a worldview and lifestyle oriented to the profane rather than the sacred, the natural rather than the supernatural.  In short secularism is a nonreligious approach to individual and social life.[11]  Humanistic learning theory developed in response to the rigid educational approaches from previous generations rather than in opposition to the church.[12]  The goal of educational humanism was to personalize the classroom. 

[1] Yount, William R. Created To Learn, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 171.
[2] Ibid, 173-80.
[3] Ibid, 205.
[4] Ibid, 216.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid, 217.
[7] Ibid, 233.
[8] Ibid, 241.
[9] Ibid, 277-85
[10] Ibid, 309.
[11] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 1085.
[12] Yount, William R. Created To Learn, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 313.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

God's Love versus His Moral Purity

So I was having a conversation recently with someone about the character of God (big surprise right!  His reason for not going to church is not being able to reconcile all of the sin stuff (we settled on moral purity) with God’s love.  I LOVE beginning this kind of conversation from this sort of starting point!  By doing so, the person I may be speaking with has already acknowledged that God is personal and is capable of having a reciprocal relationship with other personal beings.[1] God is not an “it” or some sort of abstract entity but rather is an individual being with which we may have a relationship.  A great example of this is God coming to talk with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.  How much more personal can one get than that?

If we are beginning a discussion from this point, in my opinion the heavy lifting has already been done.  The conversation then centers on the nature of that personal relationship.  What an awesome conversation for a Christian to have!

In responding to the charge that there is tension between God’s moral purity and His love, I began by pointing out that God is powerful and has the ability to do that which He chooses.  God is also wise thus He knows what to do.  Finally, God is good and thus chooses to do that which is right.[2]  That does not mean that God can do anything He can conceive.  God can only do that which is a proper use of His power.  In short, God cannot lie[3] or act in a way contrary to His nature.  He cannot fail to do something He promised to do. 

Fortunately for us, there is much more to God than this.  The preceding references to God concern His greatness.  There is also God’s goodness which must be discussed to respond to the tension charge.  God’s moral purity refers to His absolute freedom from anything wicked or evil.[4]  Further, the fact that God shares Himself with us demonstrates His love.  God wants to have a personal relationship with His creation. 

[1] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998) 295.
[2] Ibid, 303.
[3] See Hebrews 6:18.
[4] Ibid, 310.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

What is Biblical Criticism?

Biblical criticism does not mean that people are criticizing the Bible though in our day and age there is certainly no shortage of people doing exactly that.  Biblical criticism is a broad term for the scholarly study of the Bible and its textual content that uses various literary historical-critical techniques.  Put another way, biblical criticism is a way of studying the Bible critically and assessing it as literature in an attempt to better understand it.

The most recent form of biblical criticism is a postmodern form known as reader-response criticism and is focused on the reader and his or her response to a given text rather than the actual meaning.[1]  Reader-response criticism emerged in the 1960’s and like other forms of higher criticism (form criticism and redaction criticism) often focuses on the natural rather than the supernatural.  I must admit that this is my first exposure to this form of biblical criticism and am quite surprised by the premise that it is more important how a reader responds to the text than the meaning of that text. 

The more radical reader-response critics, such as Stanley Fish, believe that the text has no meaning at all.  Fish states his position clearly; “The reader’s response is not to the meaning; it is the meaning.”[2]  Fortunately (in my opinion), most in the business of biblical criticism have do not hold to Prof. Fish’s extreme, rigid views.  Many evangelicals reject these critical methods as being branches of a poisoned tree being antithetical to the doctrine of Scripture.[3] While, as a first-year seminarian, I remain very skeptical of these methods, I do believe there is value in their use if done so in a conservative manner.

The rise of reader-response criticism recently, as well as other higher criticisms in previous generations has had a decidedly negative impact on theology over the past century.[4]  Though a lengthy diatribe could certainly be written about this topic, I will limit myself to two aspects.  First, the focus on the reader and how the reader responds is flawed.  I am left with the impression that how the reader responds, whatever that response may be, is inherently correct simply because that reflects the reader’s very subjective understanding of what they just read.  I do not expect a non-believer to arrive at the same understanding of a passage of Scripture as someone who has placed their faith in our risen Savior. 

Secondly and closely related to my first point, these forms of criticism treat the Bible as simply another piece of literature.  Higher critics virtually eliminate the divine aspect of Biblical authorship.  It is now commonplace to speak of hypothetical sources of biblical material with no evidence of such based solely on the work of redaction critics (e.g. the existence of “Q” in the Gospels, Second Isaiah, etc.).[5]  Without the supernatural as a possibility, these critics seemly close the door to the Good News of Jesus Christ though I am certain many (or even most) would deny that charge.

With newer approaches to biblical criticism coming to dominate contemporary scholarship, I think it is safe to say we will see more of this type of criticism rather than less.  Conservative reader-response criticism as a form of biblical criticism may a have place.  Consider this: the many denominations we see today are a result of one reader’s response to the biblical text (e.g. Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, etc.). 

[1] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 85.
[2] IBID, 109.
[3] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 555.
[4] IBID, 556.
[5] IBID